Friday, 23 September 2011

Right now I am...

Eating a delicious homemade beetroot and green lentil salad...

Slightly nervous about being the new girl at a pilates class in the morning...

Wearing new cosy thick cabled tights...

browsing for recipes involving nectarines to make this weekend...

Looking forward to seeing comedy tonight with a good friend...

Feeling proud that not only did I manage to drag a brush through my hair this morning, i also took the time to do a fishtail braid...

Most of all looking forward to an incredibly relaxing weekend after three 16-hour days this week...

Saturday, 17 September 2011

An Autumn Morning

It's a wonderful sunny early Autumn morning here in London town. And it's the weekend! I'm up before everyone else, enjoying a cup of tea and a bit of knitting whilst reading the paper -multitasking! Of course I've got helpers with the paper reading and knitting.

And I have beautiful yellow roses brought home for me by city boy last night to start the weekend.

The blue thing on the needles in the photo above is something new, which is a source of shame seeing as the rust coloured cardi just needs an inch worth's of ribbing on one sleeve. Disgraceful.

I don't know why I can't quite bring myself to just get it done - it will only take an hour or so to finish and weave in the ends. I WILL do it this weekend. I have so many projects in the final stages that just need a bit of time - a quilt that just needs binding, a scarf that just needs the ends weaving in, a glove that needs a pair. My eye keeps getting turned by all the lovely patterns out there and feeling that I want them all to wear before the weather turns cold!

This weekend we're mostly pottering at home, although we may pop to a concert this afternoon. Tomorrow we're doing dog walking duties for friend, so there'll be a brisk autumnul walk across the common with a pub lunch. Fingers crossed that this weather stays!

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The Perfect Blouse

I've been looking for a particular pattern for a while. A sleeveless blouse that could quickly be put together in a variety of fabrics. A loose, casual fit, able to be worn with jeans and a cardi or tucked into a skirt with a jacket over it for work. It had to be unfussy to make with no zips or buttons and easily adaptable for slight variations.

I tried the Pendrell Blouse by Sewaholic, but it was, although a sweet pattern, a little more complicated than I was looking for. My ideal blouse didn't have princess seams and wasn't quite so tailored. Also, I cut the wrong pattern size out and gave up in disgust when it looked like me and a friend were going to be able to fit in it.

I was mulling ideas over for drafting my own pattern, when I came across the Collete pattern for the Sorbetto Blouse, available free. It certainly ticked the boxes for simple enough - 2 pattern pieces, a couple of darts and finish the neck and arm holes. Loose fitting blouse done.

So on Sunday afternoon, while City Boy was watching sport, I sat and taped together the printed pattern pieces and dug out some drapey fabric I'd had forever. A couple of hours later it was done, exactly what I was looking for (please ignore the fact that it's unironed in the photo).

I didn't finish the neck and armholes using the suggested method, but otherwise there's not many ways to deviate from the instructions. Once constructed it's endlessly customisable - lace trimming, buttons, collars.

I'm already planning another couple - one in a printed cotton voile and one in a sheer chiffon, to layer over a vest top. I was so impressed with the sizing, easy construction and fantastic instructions that I've been eyeing up some of the other Collette patterns - they have some gorgeous dresses that look drafted with us busty ladies in mind.

Monday, 12 September 2011

Focaccia and Feminism

This weekend we had two birthdays; City Boy's friend on Friday, for which we ventured to a pub in Borough, and a barbeque at one of my best friends' house on Saturday evening. We were very English and stoically babequed through torrential rain showers, sheltering under a gazebo.

I had brought along tomatoes from the garden and baked a rosemary and sea salt focaccia. I also brought along a jar of the vanilla honey peach butter I made last week and freshly baked oat chocolate chip cookies because they're the birthday girl's favourite. I had knitted a hot water bottle cover for a birthday gift.

When the other girls complimented my homemade efforts I shrugged them off, saying that I'd spent the last few months on the sofa with not a lot else to do with my time (why women, including myself, so often dismiss their efforts in this way is a whole other post). But when I left, a girl who I hadn't seen in a few months, who is in fact very lovely, said something that has stuck in my mind ever since:

"I hope your back gets better soon, so you can stop all this domesticity shit and go back to work and use your brain again - otherwise soon you'll open your law books and not be able to understand a word."

She didn't mean to be nasty in anyway at all, and yet this comment has been bothering me. Perhaps not so much on my own behalf - I bake and cook because I enjoy it, because I like to eat and feed my loved ones good food. I sew and knit in my spare time because I find it relaxing, fun and because I can have custom fit clothes and hand knit scarves and gloves to wear. Because I can't sit in front of the tv without some yarn and needles in my hands. Because my job leaves little room for creativity, so I choose to fulfil that need at home. Because, despite what well-meaning friends may think, deciphering a lace chart or drafting a pattern for cabled gloves can be mentally stimulating. I can do all this and be proud of my professional acheivements.

But what about those women who don't have a professional life? The women whose life's work is raising children and homemaking. Do other women, including my successful, independent friend, value this work done in the home so little? Is her passing comment indicative of a wider view?

This is clearly a much wider topic than I intend to give room to here. Feminism and domesticity have always been uneasy bedfellows and it's been discussed many times before, far more eloquently than any thoughts that I have to offer. I was reminded of the controversy stirred up by Jane Brockett's book a few years ago.

I've always been interested in feminist theory and in fact completed my masters dissertation on feminist legal theory, but I'm not sure that I've ever been so directly forced to consider my own choices and the notion that I may be hindering rather than helping the feminist cause.

The easiest argument for homemakers to fall back on is that feminism allows women to choose how they spend their life, and they can choose to spend it in the home. This is partly true, in that feminism has opened paths that were not previously available to women, but just because a choice is now available to women does not mean it's a helpful one to make. Being female certainly doesn't make mean you are automatically a card carrying feminist. I also think the argument that it's all a big sisterhood and women should stick together and respect each other's choices rings false - I'm afraid I'm not going to hold back on criticism simply because someone has boobs.

I think, ultimately, valuing the work women do in the home is more complicated than being solely a feminist issue. As a society we will always hold some jobs in higher esteem than others and I'm not sure that many parents of my generation would wish for their child to grow up and stay at home. But we don't necessarily value jobs by the salary they command: someone who works for charity for a pittance is perhaps held in higher esteem than a solicitor, a teacher deemed more worthy than an estate agent, so why do some  people view the role of a homemaker, who works for no salary, as less worthwhile than a job in the city?

I think people don't like to see wasted potential, which is why parents strive to give their children the best education possible. But if someone who could have been a successful career politician chooses to stay home to bring up their children instead are they squandering their potential? And even if you can answer yes to that question, does it matter if it means they are happier? Do women have some sort of duty to put the feminist cause above their own wishes?

I do think that women have to be mindful that the choices they make have the capacity to affect other women and I feel that the current vogue for domesticity should be approached with caution. It certainly makes me a little uncomfortable when women who have grown up as beneficiaries of the women's movement proudly proclaim that they are content to stay home and make it pretty. It touches on issues of class and privilege as well; I am yet to read a blog espousing the virtues of snuggling under a homemade quilt in a clean warm house by someone who has to support their family through paid domestic labour every day. There are more than a few women out there writing from a  position of privilege, supported financially by men, who hold up their way of life as an ideal.

Women certainly haven't won the fight for equality yet, and we can't afford to lose the ground gained at this point. Neither can we afford to take those battles hard won by past generations for granted. I do find it distasteful that so many clever and articulate women seem to want to play at being fifties housewives when our grandmothers and great grandmothers fought so hard to be valued outside of the home. I don't feel that women who are simply lucky enough to have the time and money to make beautiful homes and raise well-dressed children should be held up as role models. There are far more important things that women have to offer. But there are also many talented, inventive, smart women out there who make beautiful things and whose work shouldn't be devalued just because it's traditionally done within the home.

I am finding it incredibly difficult to come down on one side of the argument or the other. I think, like so many other things, the trick is finding a balance that you're comfortable with and I don't think that a life can be lived based on a point of principle. I enjoy cooking an elaborate meal from scratch but I expect City Boy to load the dishwasher after. I often yearn for a few quiet hours at home with my knitting needles but I need the stimulation of the work place as a counter point. I can ice a cupcake but I can also hold my own in the board room. Where the balance lies is a personal decision for every woman, but I think we have to make that decision thoughtfully and not neglect our own ambitions in favour of those of our partners and children, which women seem to do all too easily.

As for tonight, I'm going to finally knit the inch and a half of ribbing on the sleeve of this orange cardi so I can start knitting what I really want to be knitting.

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Visitors and Intruders

I may have given up on the sun but I'm still clinging to the summer in terms of the food we've been eating. We're picking tomatoes from the garden every day, and have a bounty of sweetcorn, salads and broadbeans from the farmer's market for this week.

This weeknd was all about the soft fruit. This pile of plums disappeared in two days.

I came across this recipe for Vanilla Honey Peach Butter and couldn't resist giving it a try.

It's pretty good, and 4 punnets of peaches gave me 7 medium sized jars so I've been sending every visitor, of which we've had a few this weekend, home with a jar.

We ate it on freshly baked blueberry and lemon scones with thick cream when my parents came to visit. This type of thing may have something to do with why I'm struggling to fit into last summer's dresses.

My parents were visiting so that my dad could help us solve a little problem we've been having recently. A big black cat has been coming in the cat flap to have a munch at the buffet laid out for our two. He's quite bold - last time I found him in the kitchen he took a long look at me, ate a few more mouthfuls of biscuits and sauntered out. You'd think that my two would be able to deal with the situation, seeing as it's two against one and everything, but apparently not. Mia Cat hides under the bed and stripey cat wanders the house dramtatically yowling for an hour after the intruder leaves.

Fortunately we're not the first cat owners to have unwanted visitors and a solution exists. This cat flap scans the microchip and only lets those cats that are programmed in through the flap. It has all sorts of other fancy functions that I don't know how to work, like locking everyone in after it gets dark.

To eliminate the possibilty that authorised cats will be followed through the cat flap by an unauthorised cat, it only unlocks for a specified period of time after scanning the cat, after which it locks again. Fine in theory, except my two appear to require longer than the maximum time period allowed to determine that the new door, which beeps and has flashing lights, is safe to go through.

Consequently much of my weekend has been spent going back and forth to the back door to let cats in. They're on their own today, so they have to either speed up their decision making process or spend the day in the rain. And according to stripey cat, getting wet is even worse than big scary intruders.

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Giving Up

I've given in. A little earlier than usual this year. I'm wearing tights to work today. It's no use pretending, the weather is rubbish. I've decided to stop hanging on to the feeble rays of hope that Summer might finally come to London and instead call it done and embrace Autumn.

To this end I've put a quilt on the bed and have started the annual stock check of coats and hats. I'm knitting something very orange.

I had a little cry at work yesterday. I'm meant to be easing myself back into the world of work after my operation, testing it out in the shallows. Instead I've been thrown in the deep end. I was feeling tired after thirteen hour days, infuriated after dealing with someone being deliberately obtuse and I shed a few tears of frustration, which just made me feel cross with myself as well as every other person I came across yesterday afternoon. This morning I put on an extra bright and cheerful skirt and grabbed a large coffee on my way in, both of which make me feel more equipped to face today.

I seem to be craving bright colours at the moment, perhaps a direct reflection of the dreary weather. I'm normally all about flattering black.

I'm most definitely looking forward to this week being over. Even though it's been a short one with the bank holiday it's feeling like it's lasted a month already. I think it's always worse going back to work following a lovely weekend - this one included a visit to an otter sanctuary.

I tried to persuade City Boy that this little one could live in our bath, but to no avail.